Early Music at I Tatti, XXVII: “La Sirena, il Cardinale e il Duca: the fame and fortune of Adriana Basile, napolitana”. Ensemble vivante


Thursday, October 15, 2015, 6:00pm


Villa I Tatti

This concert follows the triumphal progress of Adriana Basile, la Sirena di Posilipo, from Naples to Mantua, where she entered the service of Duke Vincenzo Gonzaga in 1610. Adriana Basile was a famed Neapolitan singer who accompanied herself on the harp, and was thought an exceptionally able virtuoso player of that instrument. Immortalised by countless poets, including Giambattista Marino, she was considered one of the greatest musicians of her time.  Duke Vincenzo Gonzaga, always intent on having splendid musicians at his disposal, would not relinquish the idea of her becoming part of his musica privata. Lengthy diplomatic manoeuvres took place between the court of Mantua and that of Don Luigi Carafa, Prince of Stigliano and Duke of Sabbioneta where her husband was employed. Adriana at first agreed to come to Mantua, but she suddenly retracted her promise. Pressure from the Vice-Re and Regina of Naples, together with reassuring and persuasive letters from Vincenzo’s long-suffering wife Eleonora de Medici, would eventually convince her. Adriana at last agreed to transfer to the court of the Gonzaga with her extended family (her complacent husband Muzio Baroni, her brothers, sisters and children), and after a protracted journey from Naples, they arrived in that city in August of 1610. 

Our programme offers a selection of music from Naples, and the cities where Adriana  halted on her voyage north -  in particular, Rome and  Florence -  before reaching Mantua. We will present - between the musical offerings - documents regarding her recruitment, and accounts of her travel north and her reception in Mantua. We will not omit evidence of her conquest in Rome of the youthful Cardinal Ferdinando Gonzaga, second son of Duke Vincenzo and an able poet and musician, who at once fell prey to her insidious musical charms. Discreetly worded documents will show how this intreccio will be resolved: Ferdinando, on his return to Mantua, will make a diplomatic withdrawal, and Adriana will soon beome part of the musical harem of Vincenzo, showered with scudi, dresses and jewels, and ennobled by a baronetcy in the feudo of Casale Monferrato. Our musical voyage will include music by Montesardo, Kapsperger, Falconiero, Barbarino, Saracini, Gagliano, Caccini, Ferdinando Gonzaga, Francesco Rasi, D’India and Monteverdi.

Chi h sentito e veduto, com’io, la signora Adriana negli anni più goivanili, in quella bellezza che il mondo sa, a Posilipo in mare dentro una filuga con la sua arpa dorato in mano, bisogna ben che confessi che a’ tempi nostri ancora si sono trovate in que’ lidi le sirene, ma sirene benifiche e adorne quanto di bellezza altretanto di virtù, non come quelle antiche malefiche e micidiali…

Pietro della Valle, from G. B. Doni’s Trattati di musica (Florence, 1763), v. 2.

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